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China’s Advancing Skills in Engineering & Innovation

Two articles in the New Year, which highlight China’s advancing skills in engineering and its plans to emerge as the world’s second leading innovator after the US, deserve to be carefully read, analysed and assessed by Indian policy-makers. In our justified preoccupation with China’s growing military strength and its unrelenting modernisation of its armed forces, we should not overlook its continuous upgradation of its engineering skills. While we may be for the present ahead of China in information technology, the Chinese are far, far ahead of us in engineering skills.Unless we draw up medium and long-term plans for improving the quality of our engineering education and the quality of the performance of our engineers, we will lag far behind China in this field too as we are lagging behind in economic development. The two articles—one titled “When Innovation, Too, is made in China” carried by the “New York Times” on January1 and the other titled ” China Wows World With Engineering” carried by the Chinese Party controlled “People’s Daily” on January 4—- are annexed for easy reference. (4-1-11)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )


When Innovation, Too, Is Made in China (…gewanted=print)

By Steve Lohr

AS a national strategy, China is trying to build an economy that relies on innovation rather than imitation. Clearly, its leaders recognize that being the world’s low-cost workshop for assembling the breakthrough products designed elsewhere — think iPads and a host of other high-tech goods — has its limits.

So can China become a prodigious inventor? The answer, in truth, will play out over decades — and go a long way toward determining not only China’s future, but also the shape of the global economy.

Clues to the Chinese approach emerge from a recent government document containing goals for drastically increasing the nation’s production of patents. It offers a telling glimpse of how China intends to engineer a more innovative society.

The document, published in November by the State Intellectual Property Office of China, is called the “National Patent Development Strategy (2011-2020).” It discusses broad economic objectives as well as specific targets to be attained by 2015.

In a recent interview, David J. Kappos, director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, pointed to the Chinese targets for 2015 and called them “mind-blowing numbers.”

According to a translation of the document provided by the patent office, China’s goal for annual patent filings by 2015 is two million. That number includes “utility-model patents,” which typically cover items like engineering features in a product and are less ambitious than “invention patents.” In the American system, there are no utility patents.

In 2009, about 300,000 applications for utility patents were filed in China, roughly equal to its total of invention patents, which have been growing slightly faster than utility filings in recent years. But even if just half of China’s total filings in 2015 are for invention patents, the national plan calls for a huge leap, to one million, by 2015. By contrast, patent filings in the United States totaled slightly more than 480,000 in the 12 months ended in September, according to the patent office.

China’s patent surge has been evident for years. In October, Thomson Reuters issued a research report, forecasting that China would surpass the United States in patent filings in 2011. “It’s happening even faster than we expected,” said Bob Stembridge, an intellectual-property analyst at Thomson Reuters.

Yet if the trend is not surprising, the ambition of the Chinese plan is striking. The document indicates, for example, that China intends to roughly double its number of patent examiners, to 9,000, by 2015. (The United States has 6,300 examiners.)

China also wants to double the number of patents that its residents and companies file in other countries. Recent Chinese filings in the United States, Mr. Kappos says, are mainly in fields that China has declared priorities for industrial strategy, including solar and wind energy, information technology and telecommunications, and battery and manufacturing technologies for automobiles.

To lift its patent count, China has introduced an array of incentives. They include cash bonuses, better housing for individual filers and tax breaks for companies that are prolific patent producers.

“The leadership in China knows that innovation is its future, the key to higher living standards and long-term growth,” Mr. Kappos says. “They are doing everything they can to drive innovation, and China’s patent strategy is part of that broader plan.”

China’s strategy is guided and sponsored by the state. Should that be a source of concern for the United States, and perhaps a trade issue? Or is the plan likely to resemble past efforts by other governments to give their companies an edge in global competition?

In the 1980s, the Japanese government was widely viewed as the master practitioner of industrial policy, and Japan Inc. seemed poised to overrun one American industry after another, including computers.

As we know, it didn’t turn out that way, partly because of steps taken by the American government and industry. A semiconductor trade agreement was intended to pry open the Japanese market, and I.B.M. invested in a crucial but then-struggling supplier, Intel.

More important, however, Japan never became a force in a particularly unruly, imaginative side of computing: writing software. Generalizations are risky, but it seems that Japan, as a society, has not produced enough of that kind of innovative skill, despite being a formidable patent generator. (In that area, Japan is still slightly ahead of the United States by some measures, though Japan’s patent filing pace is slowing.)

To call Japan’s industrial policy an outright failure would be simplistic. In some industries — autos, machine tools and consumer electronics, for example — it has done quite well.

“They are still in the game in those industries and going gangbusters — and we are not,” said Clyde V. Prestowitz Jr., president of the Economic Strategy Institute and a former United States trade negotiator. Still, just how strong a hand government policy had in those successes is open to debate.

The Chinese patent strategy document is filled with metrics, right down to goals for patents owned per million people. It speaks of an innovation-by-the-numbers mentality, much like a student who equates knowledge with scores on standardized tests.

“It is a brute-force approach at this stage, emphasizing the quantity of innovation assets more than the quality,” said John Kao, an innovation consultant to governments and corporations.

But it would be a mistake, Mr. Kao said, to assume that China will necessarily follow a path similar to Japan’s. China, he says, is not only much bigger than Japan, but it also has a more individualistic entrepreneurial society, despite its Communist government. Someday, he predicts, China will have its entrepreneurial equivalents of Steven P. Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

DESPITE China’s inevitable rise, Mr. Kao said, the United States has a comparative advantage because it is the country most open to innovation. “American culture, more than any other, forgives failure, tolerates risk and embraces uncertainty,” Mr. Kao says.

Many innovative products and technologies, he says, will be made elsewhere. “But America’s future lies in being the orchestrator — the systems integrator — of the innovation process,” Mr. Kao said. “Look at Silicon Valley. It is a place where smart people from all nations, all languages and all ethnic groups come together. It’s the capital of innovation assembly.”

ANNEXURE II China wows world with engineering ( )

The country surprised the world with its engineering and technical feats in 2010, when it completed several monumental projects high in the sky, deep in the seas and in-between.

China last year completed 15 successful space launches, including that of its second lunar probe, Chang’e-2, which will determine a site for the country’s first unmanned moon landing around 2013.

The Long March launch vehicles also sent five Beidou navigation satellites into orbit. The launches were part of the country’s plan to have 12 Beidou navigation satellites form a network covering the Asia-Pacific region before 2012. The system will have 35 navigation satellites by 2020, when it will rival the United States’ Global Positioning System.

On the ground, China became a strong player in the global high-speed railway industry in 2010 by innovating upon technologies previously imported from Germany, France and Japan.

The Ministry of Railways announced the nation’s high-speed railway network last year reached 7,531 km, becoming longer than any other countries’.

The network’s top service speed became the world’s fastest at 380 kilometers an hour since the Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed railway opened in October.

It set new operation speed records twice in 2010.

In September, a China-made fast train reached 416.6 km an hour on the Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed railway. Two months later, a train on the 1,318-km-long Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway beat that record by reaching 486.1 km an hour.

Sources with CSR Corp Ltd, a major domestic train manufacturer, said in December that an experimental train is being developed that would challenge the 574.8 km an hour speed traveled by a specially configured version of France’s TGV in 2007.

The country also made great achievements in the deep sea, becoming the fifth country to develop deep-diving technology capable of going beyond the 3,500-meter mark.

The domestically developed submersible Jiaolong planted a Chinese flag on the bottom of the South China Sea during a 3,759-meter-deep dive in July.

The vessel, designed to reach a depth of 7,000 meters and operate in most of the planet’s oceans, is considered the world’s only manned submersible that can theoretically reach those depths. Japan’s Shinkai 6500 can dive for 6,500 meters. The other three countries with deep-diving technology are the United States, France and Russia.

And 2010 was the year China overtook the United States in developing the fastest supercomputer.

The Tianhe-1A can perform 2,507 trillion calculations a second and is 29 million times faster than the earliest supercomputers.

In addition, the water level of the largest hydroelectric project, the Three Gorges Dam, had increased to 175 meters as of October 2010, enabling it to generate electricity at maximum capacity.

The slew of mega-projects were made possible by the country’s mammoth spending on research and development.

According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), China’s investment in innovation nearly doubled from 34 billion euros ($44.56 billion) in 2006 to 65.7 billion euros in 2009.

By Bao Daozu, China Daily

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